With the Marvel Cinematic Universe wrapping up its first year of Disney+ releases, the property has finally embraced what fans and critics alike have been calling it (and its comic progenitor) for years: an extremely high-scale take on a soap opera. Where audiences would previously have to wait months between new additions to the grand storyline, it’s now a matter of days. And what would any good long-form series of television be without its holiday special? It’s appropriate, in that case, that Marvel’s first holiday-themed release since 2013 should be their most small-scale one yet and that it should focus on the oft-proclaimed human of the Avengers, Hawkeye.
Since the release of the first Avengers, it’s been pretty obvious that two of the members of the original six haven’t quite gotten the same treatment as the rest of the team. While Black Widow is the one out of the odd two that deserved a solo project more, Hawkeye was the character who needed one the most. Numerous attempts were made to make the character more presentable as a Marvel lead, but none of them ever seemed to land quite as well as one would hope. Following a string of vigilante killings as Ronin (one of the aforementioned attempts), Clint is haunted by his time as the masked vigilante, only added to by his perceived failure to save his partner. Despite getting his family back, Clint struggles to settle into a normal life, hoping to use Christmas as the stable ground to do so.
While many fans were expecting a radical shift for the titular Hawkeye in hopes of making him more appealing to general audiences as a solo character, Renner’s performance as Clint remains shockingly unchanged, now offset and more enjoyable due to his blunt relationship with Kate Bishop, arguably the true star of the series. With the opening scenes of the show focused on her, Kate takes the wheel immediately, taking on the role of the active agent in the narrative and driving forward the plot before Clint crashes into her and realizes that this is now his responsibility.
Despite not remaking the character for the purposes of the series, Hawkeye puts a spotlight on this version of Clint, doing some work to show how he operates and a bit more about him. It also does a lot to humanize him, finally making him worthy of his role as the relatable Avenger he was already framed to be up until now. Clint’s hearing loss, an important detail in the comics and one that fans have been asking for since his debut, is revealed to be a result of gradual injury from proximity to explosions, alien invasions, and crashing through windows. Reframing it as a literal, physical ramification for his being a member of the Avengers works to truly make Clint the most grounded of the team. Nothing quite comes easily to Clint in Hawkeye besides fighting, and while he’s an Avenger who helped save the world, that doesn’t stop him from having to stalk around crime scenes, rent medieval role-playing gear, and hide out in questionable apartments. Though it’s only slightly hinted at, it even seems like Clint has some concern over money, a topic that hasn’t really been explored much in the MCU besides The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Kate is the perfect opposite to Clint in this regard, she’s an overachieving, energetic troublemaker, traits that actress Hailee Steinfeld captures perfectly in her first outing as the new Hawkeye. She comes from a rich family, the Bishops run a security firm, and her mother has plans for Kate to join the company, though Kate isn’t so sure. Kate’s story isn’t incredibly original for a coming-of-age character arc, even down the beat of her being told to put on a dress and going with a black two-piece suit instead (the first of several great looks), but it does feel fresh for the MCU, a universe fairly void of younger characters besides Spider-Man. Through a series of eavesdroppings, Kate begins to uncover a conspiracy of some sort, involving her mother, her future step-father, and his family. That step-father, Jacques (the MCU adaptation of Swordsman, a prominent comic Avenger and mentor of Clint Barton) is also another bright point of the show, actor Tony Dalton playing the suspicious-yet-lovable character admirably.
Kate’s investigations eventually bring her at odds with the Tracksuit Mafia, a group of gangsters operating in New York who now believe Kate to be the same Ronin that had cut through their numbers some time ago. With a number of different players and overlapping grudges, Hawkeye‘s unique selling point comes into focus as Marvel’s first fully dedicated mystery property. Wandavision‘s numerous easter eggs and hidden detail may have inspired fans to throw around massive theories, but at the end of the day, that show wasn’t truly about the mystery, and all of the big reveals ended up being the very obvious ones. Hawkeye, however, has more leeway to go whichever direction it sees fit, weaving a tale of murder, crime, and red herrings to create something wholly new to the universe.
Hawkeye is a unique addition to the MCU that feels like it could shape up to be something truly special. In a year of massive, wide-scale events ranging from the introduction of planet-sized robot gods to terrorist supersoldiers, it’s refreshing to have something take a step back, telling an entirely street-level story with good chemistry between the two characters at the head. How the mystery develops remains to be seen, but Hawkeye starts with a good foot forward to much delight.